Palm Bible +: A Review  
  Version: 3.20  
  Developer: Yih-Chun Hu  
  Holger Szesnat  
Overall Rating:  7.6
User Interface: Searching:
Ease of Use Features:
Help & Support: Modules:
Customization: Original Languages:
Speed: Price:

December 3, 2005

A review written by Holger Szesnat, tutor in Biblical Studies. Copyright � 2004-2009 by the author. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce any part of this document without obtaining permission from the author.This review has been updated

1. Introduction

Bible+ is a free (GPL -licensed) Bible reader for Palm OS derived from BibleReader by Poetry Poon." [1] BibleReader later turned into a commercial programme, and Yih-Chun Hu subsequently developed Bible+ on the basis of an earlier open source version. Written for Palm OS 3.3 and better, it is available under a standard General Public Licence (put simply, it is freely available to anyone, and programmers are invited to help develop it further). Version 1 appeared sometime in early April 2003; at the time of writing, the latest stable release version was 3.03, though this review was written on the basis of the latest beta-version (3.1.10).

Fig. 1: Displaying a single version

Bible+ allows the user to display Bible versions and other texts on a PDA (fig. 1). The latest (beta) releases cater not only for polytonic Greek but also vocalised Hebrew. A number of Chinese versions also exist: it seems that if a person can be found to create a font set, and if the text-base exists, pretty much any language /character set seems to be possible. The open source nature of this programme, coupled with an active group of developers, ensures good development prospects.

Before I get into the details of the review, I should be up-front about my own background and bias. (1) I am a relatively recent convert to handheld computers; I have less than a year's experience of working with PDA's (actually, only one particular PDA, which is a Palm Tungsten E, running Palm OS 5.21). I have been working with different versions of Bible+ ever since I started with a PDA: in fact, it was a description of this programme in David Instone-Brewers' "TynTech" reviews that 'sold' me on the idea of PDA. (2) I have a bias towards free programmes, especially when it comes to Bible software. Obviously there is a need for commercial programmes, especially for the further development of high-end research tools, but it is also highly desirable to have basic electronic Scripture tools available for those who cannot afford the high price ofBibleWorks, Logos, etc.: which is why I always recommend programmes likee-Sword for PC and Pocket-PC, MacSword for Apple and Bible + (Palm OS) to my students. For most users, these programmes are perfectly adequate, and it seems unnecessary to pay for cheap commercial programmes which offer little more (and often less).

Of course, the usual limitations of 'free software' apply to Bible+ as well. While it generally performs very well for the tasks it is designed for, getting it to work on your PDA in exactly the way you want it may require a bit of time and some 'fiddling'. As a PDA novice, it took me several hours to get it all sorted. It must be said though that most of my problems derived from trying to get Greek and Hebrew texts to work properly. However, there is a good number of experienced users who can be asked for help via the user forum on the programme homepage.

I must also admit that I am, perhaps unreasonably so, just a touch worried about the quality of the text basis offered in Bible versions for free software. Errors can creep in rather easily (and, since I have a suspicious mind, perhaps also deliberately). However, having fairly recently handed over about �200 for a copy of BibleWorks 6, I was reminded that the expectation of high quality comes at a price: quality and confidence in a text, that is, comparable to, say, a printed copy of Nestle-Aland 27, coupled with Bachmann & Slaby's Concordance. [2]

2. Basic Functions

The principle of the programme is a simple and familiar one: Bible+ allows the user to read Biblical texts and to perform simple search functions. Texts must be installed separately and individually once the main programme has been installed. If you use an additional memory card, you can move Bible versions to it in order to preserve precious RAM on the PDA itself (versions may take between 500kb and 2Mb).

Up to two versions may be displayed at any time, with a variable horizontal or vertical screen split: as can be seen in fig. 2 & 3, this allows for a highly configurable system depending on one's particular needs.

Fig. 2: Two versions; 1:1 horizontal split

The text on the screen scrolls/moves either by means of hard-wired tool buttons on the PDA, or by 'dragging' the text by means of the stylus. In addition, the menu at the top of screen allows for the selection of 'book', chapter and verse to jump to. There are also a number of useful shortcuts for PDA's with a 'graffiti' area to write on. All this is quite simple, intuitive, and easy to use.

Fig. 3: Two versions; 1:3 vertical split

3. Bible modules and other texts for use in Bible +

The Bible+ website offers the usual range of free Bible versions for use with this programme; usual, that is, for many freeware / open source Bible applications: various forms of the Authorised Version ("King James Version"); American Standard Version, Bible in Basic English, Darby Bible, and so on. Because of the licensing policies of the copyright owners of certain popular versions (such as the New Revised Standard Version, or the New International Version), these versions are generally not available for use in free / open source Bible programmes, including Bible+. This is a major drawback of Bible+, or any other freeware Bible programme for that matter � conversely, this is the attraction of commercial programmes.

However, it is technically possible to export the raw text-base of such versions (eg. NRSV) from other legally owned programmes (eg. BibleWorks), and then to convert this, or "roll your own", into a version for use in Bible+. As to whether this is actually legal, I have no idea; it would seem sensible to allow someone who has forked out �200 for BibleWorks 6 further use of the NRSV text, but lawyers tend to think differently from other mortals. Presumably copyright law depends on the country you live in, too. Be that as it may, there are fairly detailed instructions for this procedure on the Bible+ website.

Bible+ can display not only multiple Bible versions, but also other texts, once they are converted to use in Bible+. For example, I have Philo's texts (Yonge's translation, that is) on my PDA (fig. 4). The size of such text files can be quite large: Philo's text, for instance, takes up about 1.5Mb. However, this is no larger than some Bible versions.

Certain classic Bible commentaries and resources are also available, as for many free Bible programmes: Matthew Henry's Commentary, John Wesley's Notes, and so on.

Fig. 4: Philo, De opificio mundi

Non-Latin character sets may be used with Bible+. In fact, this programme was originally created to display Chinese versions. Polytonic Greek has been possible with Bible+ for a quite a while now, and the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible was also available. The latest beta releases of Bible+ (for Palm OS5) now also offer a beautiful vocalised Hebrew text (BHS). (fig. 5)

Fig. 5: Vocalised Hebrew text (BHS)

4. Searching

Displaying the text is obviously an important part of Bible software, and the ability to split the screen to show two versions at a time is a great thing for the small screens of PDA's. But another major advantage of any decent Bible software is the search function, which at its very basic level allows the use to create a concordance on-the-fly.

In Bible+, the search functions are fairly basic, yet quite powerful. For English texts (and those using the same character set), it is fairly straightforward: both terms and phrases may be searched for, with optional case sensitivity for the character string chosen. So far, it is not possible to use Boolean logic searches, though, and wildcards do not work either. In principle, searches of the non-Latin character based texts are also possible, though one first has to determine the transliteration system used for that particular version. At present, there does not appear to be any documentation for this on the programme website or its associated discussion forum, but when proceeding on a trial-and-error basis, I found it fairly intuitive � certainly with Greek. (Fig. 6)

Fig. 6: LXX search results

While the display speed of the versions is good, searches are quite slow. There is no other way of putting it. If you are used to programmes on recent desktop systems, you will be disappointed with this. Obviously, processor power and memory size on different PDA's will have some effect on speed (and needless to say, on both scores, PDA's cannot be compared with modern desktop machines), but a simple comparison test should illustrate what I mean. If I run a search for the key terms "root, offspring, David" in the ASV, I expect to find only one passage, towards the end of the canon (Rev. 22:16). Running such a search on my desktop PC, with a 2.4Gh processor and 512Mb of RAM, the freeware programme e-Sword will return the answer in just over a second; the commercial and professional programme, BibleWorks 6 takes a mere 0.02 seconds. On my Tungsten E, Bible+ takes almost six minutes to do the same job. Of course, one can cut down on search time by restricting the search parameters in a sensible fashion, most importantly by limiting the number of 'books' the programme will work through.

5. Other Functions

Bible+ offers a variety of other useful functions of which I will mention only a few. First, it is possible to link Bible+ with dictionaries such as RoadLingua or BDicty via thePlucker Plugin Interface. Whether it is worth your while doing this is an interesting questions: after all, this depends on the availability of actually useful dictionary files for RoadLingua or BDicty in the first place; it should be interesting to keep an eye on both RoadLingua and BDicty in this regard. One should also add that some Bible+ version files already incorporate the popular "Strong's Numbers", or morphological analysis (TVM), which may be switched on or off with the 'footnote' function (fig. 7).

Fig. 7: GNT with TVM switched on

Secondly, the usual TSK cross-references are available as a plug-in; double-tapping on a verse number will then open a list of "parallel passages". Again, a tool to be used with caution (who determines what is 'parallel'?). Thirdly, "bookmarks" may be recorded to allow for quick access to selected passages or search results; a useful tool for classes, or as a quick reminder for later follow-up. Fourthly, Bible+ supports simple note-taking; notes can then be exported to the memo-pad.

6. Conclusion

Ultimately, Bible+ must be evaluated in relation to other PDA software, not with desktop programmes. Serious research with Greek and Hebrew texts is still the domain of professional programmes for PC's and Mac's.

However, when compared with other freely available PDA programmes, Bible+ is clearly streets ahead: before we get too critical of Bible+, it is a good idea to run a fairly new programme like the UniBible (by the producers of the internet-basedUnbound Bible) and observe the difference in quality and features: Bible+ is simply in a different league. On the other hand, I have not had the opportunity to test commercial products (Olive Tree's PDA software seems to be among the best), so I cannot offer comments on those in comparison to Bible+.

Given that Bible+ is offered free of charge, it is frankly amazing to see how high the quality of this programme is, and how much support one can find in voluntary user and developer groups. If you want a straightforward programme to display Bible translations, do simple searches, perhaps compare two versions, and take some notes, Bible+ is an obvious choice. I would always recommend it for this purpose. Working with Greek and Hebrew texts in Bible+ is increasingly becoming easier with the latest programme release, though you still need to be prepared to fiddle with the programme for a while to get it all working satisfactorily. The lack of immediate access to copyright restricted versions such as the NIV or the NRSV will annoy some users; but then, if you are prepared to engage in some trial-and-error work, and if you have already purchased that version for another package for another platform, it is not too difficult to import the text into Bible+. On a scale of 1-10, I would give Bible+ 9 points.

7. Internet Links [official programme homepage; programme and Bible version download; online manual; user forum; multiple further links] [Gary Chan offers a number of resources, particularly for Greek and Chinese versions] [conversion tools for "rolling one's own"] [links, texts, tips from one of the developers] [tips; texts in Greek, Hebrew, Syriac] [UBS3 and BHS] [Greek, Hebrew and Arabic versions] [many Bible versions; Philo; Josephus; Nag Hammadi; plus Qur'an and foundational Islamic texts] [various Bible+ tools and texts on this general site].

UPDATE (December 3, 2005): Palm Bible + version 3.20

Palm Bible+ version 3.2 offers a number of improvements. Complete details are listed on the programmewebsite. I should like to highlight the more important ones:

1. Search Speed

Search speed has increased significantly. The specific search mentioned in the original review ("offspring, root, David" in the ASV) now takes just over a minute on a Tungsten E. This is still nowhere near what a decent desktop machine can do with freeware (like e-Sword), let alone commercial high-end programmes like BibleWorks, but it is a vast improvement on the six minutes this search took on earlier Bible+ versions.

Speed can be improved further with theLightspeed overclocking programme that Bible+ now makes use of, if installed. The power-hungry over-clocking feature will only kick in during searches. Setting my Tungsten E to 180Mhz, the search speed for the test mentioned above improved somewhat (from just over a minute to about 42 seconds). I should add though that the Lightspeed facility is only free in its current Beta test version 2.0; otherwise this is a commercial product. I did have some problems with restarting my Tungsten E with Lightspeed installed, but that is another matter.

2. Boolean searches

Bible+ now supports Boolean searches (AND, OR, NOT) together with the ability to specify which term / phrase ought to precede the other, as well as wildcard searches. However, searches are still limited to single verses only, that is, the search function does not allow the user to find possible matches across a specified range of verses.

Interestingly enough, a slightly more complex test search across the whole ASV (grace AND lord AND jesus NOT christ: six results including Rev 22:21) took just as long as a more simple search (above).

3. Greek / Hebrew and Search Documentation

Searching is now much better documented, including the transliteration scheme needed for searches of the Greek and Hebrew texts. When in the 'Find' window, tap the 'i' symbol in the top right corner and scroll down the 'search' help comments. As before, searching works on consonantal Hebrew / unaccented Greek only, although it is possible to display vocalised / accented texts.

4. Number of versions

The restriction on the maximum number of versions that one can carry on the system (default: 48) has been lifted, or rather: it is now possible to choose a larger number (up to 500).

5. Text to Speech

Palm OS5 devices with sound support can now make use of a text-to-speech function, provided there is sufficient memory (requires 6 MB of free RAM and 2 MB of dynamic heap). This function uses a free programme calledTalking Moose (another link here). Due to memory limitations, I have not been able to test this.

6. Auto-scroll

A handy feature for reading Bible texts continuously is the new auto-scroll function. Tap once on the screen and the text begins to scroll (speed is adjustable), tap again and it stops.

7. Link to Reading Planner

Users who like to read the Bible continuously can download theReading Planner programme which selects the Bible 'books' you wish to read, as well as the period of time over which you want to do so. The programme then divides the text into equal sections and links to Bible+.

In Conclusion

Other programmes would no doubt have included a minor face-lift to the programme and then called this 'version 4': the changes are significant enough to warrant this. Well done and thank you to the Bible+ developers' community!

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